The new chief of the Bakersfield Police Department has asked the FBI to review the case of a 73-year-old man with early dementia who was shot and killed by an officer just steps from his home last week.
Chief Lyle Martin has requested an examination of “the facts and evidence” surrounding the death of Francisco Serna “to increase transparency and trust within our community.” The FBI investigation will be independent of probes now underway by the department and the Kern County district attorney’s office.
“Public confidence in the criminal justice system is critical,” the police department said in a statement issued Friday. “The Bakersfield Department is committed to seeking justice in all cases and this is accomplished by ensuring investigations are completed thoroughly and without bias.”
The request comes amid public criticism of the department and demands by the Serna family to open state and federal investigations into the killing.
The shooting occurred around 12:40 a.m. on Dec. 12 in the Southwest Bakersfield neighborhood. Just prior to the shooting, a neighbor had called 911 to report that a man had flashed a gun at his wife and her friend, Martin told reporters last week.
When police responded to the 7900 block of Silver Birch Avenue, the 911 caller’s wife told police that Serna had approached her outside her home. She said Serna stood behind her and questioned her about living in the neighborhood.
During the exchange Serna had one hand in his pocket, Martin said. The woman told police that she saw a black- or brown-handled object in his jacket and that she believed it was a firearm.
She then identified Serna to police as he exited his home across the street. The woman pointed at him and yelled, “That’s him,” the chief said.
Officers ordered Serna to show his hands, but he ignored them and kept his hands in his jacket and continued walking toward police, Martin said.
After he ignored the officers’ commands, Officer Reagan Selman fired seven rounds at Serna, striking him five times, police said.
When police searched Serna’s body and the scene, they did not find a weapon. Instead, officers found a dark, faux wood crucifix.
Martin said Serna never lunged or threatened officers. The officers, he said, did not attempt to use other methods of force.
Selman and the six other officers involved in the matter have been placed on routine administrative leave. It was Selman’s first police shooting since joining the department in July 2015.
Serna had shown signs of dementia since 2015 and occasionally experienced delusions, according to his son, Rogelio Serna. His father’s symptoms seemed more pronounced in the last month, he said.
Before the shooting, Bakersfield police had been called to Serna’s home eight times. Six of the visits occurred in the last month, and were mostly for false burglary calls, a police spokesman said.
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